In July 2018, two hikers found a deceased male hiker in a tent at the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County, Florida. His cause of death remains unclear. He was not found with a driver's license, cell phone, credit card, or other identifying information. His only possessions were notebooks, hiking gear, and cash. His fingerprints did not match government databases or any open missing persons case. The hiker had no tattoos, scars, or medical implants that would aided his identification.
The hiker had multiple aliases, including his trail name “Mostly Harmless”, “Ben Bilemy”, and “Denim”. At the time of death, he was presumed to be between the ages of 35-50 years old, with gray hair and beard, blue eyes, and teeth in excellent condition. When he was found, he was estimated to be 5’8, weighing about 83 pounds.
Identification was further complicated by the hiker's use of aliases and cash. For example, he appeared to have checked into Top of Georgia Hostel and Hiking Center in the fall of 2017 but did so under the name “Ben Bilemy”. He paid for items using cash and didn’t leave any contact information. Other hikers met him in 2017 and 2018, but none of them knew his true identity.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office started working with Othram in July 2020 to use advanced DNA testing and forensic genealogy to establish an identification of, or to find nearest kin to the hiker. Ultimately through the efforts of law enforcement, tips from the crowd, and Othram DNA testing, the Collier County Sheriff's Office identified the hiker as Vance Rodriguez.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office enlisted the help of the Lafayette Parish County Sheriff’s Office, which made contact with his family. The family then agreed to provide a DNA sample for comparison. Othram has made a positive identification based on that DNA, using their KinSNP™ rapid relationship testing technology.
About Othram Inc.
Othram is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built specifically to apply the power of modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. Othram’s scientists are experts at recovery, enrichment, and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated materials. Founded in 2018, and located in The Woodlands, Texas, our team works with academic researchers, forensic scientists, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies to achieve results when other approaches have failed. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit Othram.com to learn how we can help you with your case. Visit dnasolves.com to learn how anyone can make a difference in helping solve the next cold case.